All expectations are No. 4 Ohio State and No. 15 TCU will provide each other their first measuring stick Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.
The intersectional clash also could be a coming out party for Dwayne Haskins.
The Buckeyes sophomore quarterback isn’t entirely new to the national scene, having replaced an injured J.T. Barrett last season at Michigan and leading a second-half rally to victory over the Wolverines, but this will be the first chance for many fans across the country to see Haskins as the star of the show.
And what a show it has been so far.
Haskins was nearly perfect in blowouts of Oregon State and Rutgers, completing 42 of 53 passes (79.2 percent) for 546 years and nine touchdowns with one interception.
Perhaps on the cusp of stardom, he handled interviews with aplomb this week.
“Just having the opportunity to go play on Saturday night ESPN (via ABC) is a dream come true,” Haskins said. “Playing in The Team Up North (Michigan) game last year was a dream come true. Every game is a dream come true for me, just being able to go out there and be a starter for my dream school, so I take every game like it’s my last.”
Asked if anything bothers him, he said yes — but not on the football field, at least not yet.
“Probably the biggest thing is homework, having to take my dogs out and pick their, you know, stuff up,” he said with a laugh. “That gets me pretty riled up.”
Here are four more subplots to watch for Saturday night:
1. Has the Ohio State offense been holding anything back?
As good as the Buckeyes have been (averaging 64.5 points and 650 yards per game), there is a sense they have not gone very deep into the well of offensive strategy yet this season.
The running game is more diversified, and Haskins has spread the ball around in the passing game, but there hasn’t been anything too fancy on display.
That includes limiting Haskins’ involvement in the running game. He’s always been expected to run less than Barrett, but in two games he has only run four times for 24 yards. One of those was a sack last week.
“I think when the opportunity presents itself, he will (run more),” interim coach Ryan Day said. “He showed some of that in the first game. He will have to at some point along the line and beat you with his feet. Teams may start to defend the pass a little more and that will open up the run for him.”
2. Is this a vintage TCU defense?
The calling card of the Horned Frogs during Gary Patterson’s 17-plus seasons as head coach in Fort Worth has been a 4-2-5 defense that was ahead of its time.
With the rise of the spread offense, many teams play with a two linebackers and a hybrid linebacker/safety on the field most, if not all, of the time, but that’s been the norm at TCU for a long time.
“They have all the answers,” Day said. “Any time a defense has been together that long, they have seen so many different things come their way. So they have adjustments. They make quick adjustments. They know exactly how you’re trying to attack them, so very, very talented group, as well. A lot of veteran guys back there.
“You’re going to have to earn everything that you get.”
3. TCU skill players to test Buckeye defense.
The Horned Frogs were 11-14 in their first two seasons in the Big 12 but won at least 11 games in three of the last four thanks in large part to installing a version of the “Air Raid” offense first popularized by Mike Leach at Texas Tech.
“They are a really talented offense,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “It all starts with the offense and defensive lines. Their offensive line is as good as any in the Big Ten. It is that kind of offensive line, very, very good. Skill people. They are fast. It’s a very fast football team.”
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While sophomore quarterback Shawn Robinson leads the team in passing and rushing, Anderson and Sewo Olonilua have combined for 207 yards on the ground while KaVonte Turpin and Jalen Reagor have combined for 16 catches for 209 yards.
Turpin returned a punt for a touchdown last week against SMU.
4. Playoff implications?
Both coaches downplayed the role this game could play in ultimately making the College Football Playoff in December.
“Ohio State is here to win every game,” Day said. “It’s not different this week.”
Patterson told reporters on the Big 12 teleconference Saturday is a big game, “You can’t ruin your season because you make it an all-or-nothing situation.”
Nonetheless, the winner will have a leg up in the playoff race while the loser will almost certainly have to win out to have a chance to make the final four.